RDK GM: Comcast software platform could enable virtual cable delivery

Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA) RDK software platform could help enable the delivery of IP video to subscribers nationwide connected to a virtual cable platform used by multiple broadband providers, according to the Comcast executive running its RDK LLC joint venture with Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC).

"Virtual distribution is more about the network and the business arrangement between multiple companies, but what the RDK brings is a common platform," RDK LLC President and GM Steve Heeb told FierceCable.

But with Comcast investing in technology that could see it deliver IP video to connected TVs, tablets and other devices, the RDK platform could help the company market virtual cable services on systems owned by other cable MSOs that deploy products based on RDK. "It doesn't bring those folks together, but if they're all using it, it's very easy to integrate a common solution," said Heeb, who is also VP of business development at Comcast, in an interview last week.

Comcast recently formed a team called VIPER (Video IP Engineering and Research) that is focused on delivering IP video to TVs and mobile devices. While the nation's largest cable MSO hasn't announced plans to strike deals with other cable operators that would see it market Xfinity-branded cable programming in areas where it doesn't own cable systems, its investments in the RDK platform could help those efforts if that's a model the company eventually pursues. It's also worth noting that Comcast is marketing the Xfinity brand at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Atlanta this week, where a huge Xfinity billboard adorns the front of the Georgia World Congress Center. 

Comcast unveiled RDK in summer 2012, positioning it initially as a pre-integrated software bundle that can power tru2way, IP and hybrid set-top gateways as well as advanced video products like its X1 service. It announced in August that it was teaming up with Time Warner Cable to license RDK software to other cable operators and technology vendors through a joint venture. Heeb was named head of RDK LLC in September.

While more than 100 cable technology vendors have signed RDK licenses they can use to build interoperable hardware and interactive services based on the platform, only three cable operators have signed commercial licenses to deploy products based on RDK: Comcast, Time Warner Cable and John Malone's Liberty Global (Nasdaq: LBTYA).

But Heeb said several major MSOs, including Cox Communications, have signed evaluation licenses that allow them to view the source code and weigh the benefits of signing commercial licenses. "As far as I know they are investing in the technology, and they are very bullish," Heeb said regarding Cox. FierceCable reported in June that Cox was evaluating the RDK.

Cox recently began deploying home video gateways from Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) that can convert QAM cable channels into IP signals and transport content to multiple IP-connected devices in subscriber homes, including tablets and connected TVs. Cox's approach is similar to Comcast's X1 product, which runs on Pace (LSE: PIC.L) gateways. Time Warner Cable recently began testing a super DVR and IP set-tops from Arris (Nasdaq: ARRS), but it hasn't said when it will kick off the commercial deployment.

Heeb said he expects 2014 to be a big year for RDK, predicting that multiple cable MSOs will deploy advanced set-tops that are compatible with RDK software. He believes some cable operators will offer subscribers IP video streaming using RDK technology, and operators will also launch new advanced user interfaces powered by RDK.

"I think it will be dramatically different by the end of 2014," Heeb said regarding the user interfaces many subscribers will navigate to access cable programming.

Commentary: How virtual cable and CableWiFi may have killed the Verizon Wireless – Comcast joint innovation lab

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